This is the fifth in a six-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama’s spring football practice. We continue with a breakdown of the linebackers.
II: Offensive line
III: Running backs/wide receivers/tight ends
IV: Defensive line
Reuben Foster was the best linebacker in the country a season ago. His departure leaves a largo void to fill in the middle of Alabama’s defense. Shaun Dion Hamilton should be healthy following his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in the SEC Championship Game against Florida. He’ll be the most experienced linebacker for the Crimson Tide this season, and he’ll have to lead a young unit. Both starting outside linebackers are gone too, and both were really extremely productive players in Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams. The good news is that is plenty of talent in the linebacker meeting room. It’s just young in certain spots.
Intrigue level: 3
*Intrigue level is rated on a scale of 1-5 based on competition, number of starting spots available at a respective position and growth needed for a position
The inside linebackers
It all starts with Hamilton, an instinctive glue guy in the middle of the Alabama defense. Hamilton’s play went largely overshadowed on last year’s defense simply due to the amount of talent in crimson and white. His injury in the SEC Championship Game cost him his postseason. Look for him to return ready to go in 2017. Rashaan Evans filled in well for Hamilton during his absence. Evans is a quick-twitch linebacker whose best asset is arguably his speed. His ability to close on a ballcarrier is something to behold. Another inside linebacker to watch out for is Mack Wilson, who made quite the name for himself with big hits on special teams his freshman season. Wilson is a special athlete who could earn a role for himself this season. Ben Davis is also a name to remember. He redshirted last season, but he is physically ready to compete in the SEC. How much he learned the defense last season will help determine how much action he sees this season.
The outside linebackers
Losing the best outside linebacker duo in the country in Anderson and Williams will take some steam out of the unit. But there is talent ready to step in that just needs some seasoning. Anfernee Jennings earned playing time last season and is the first player projected to fill those big shoes. He has the size to play the position at 6-foot-3, 265 pounds. Christian Miller is another quick-twitch linebacker, and he’s worked hard during his time in the program to add size and strength. This could be his breakout year. Terrell Hall is another young player who could see his playing time increased. At 6-5, 251 pounds, Hall has the size and length that could make him a nightmare to block.
Alabama lost some really good and productive linebackers in 2016. But the opportunity now exists for other guys to step up and ensure the drop off in play isn’t a factor this season. Hamilton will be the guy that others look to this season, but don’t overlook Evans. Evans is superior athletically to almost anyone he’ll face. He just needs to play more consistently, because the skill is there. Miller and Hall could be difference makers on the outside.
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.